Elemental: War of Magic Review

It’s always a good thing when you can feel the potential a game has. That early feeling a game gives you can set the expectations of what’s in store for you as a player. It excites you and drives you to discover more and see if the game has realized this potential.

This is the exactly the case for Elemental: War of Magic, a new 4X game from developer Stardock. Unfortunately though, Elemental never realizes its potential, and what is delivered is a broken, confusing, and empty-feeling game that seems to forget that 4X games have evolved since the early 90s.

Elemental casts you in the shoes of a Sovereign, a mystical being who has the power to shape the post-Armageddon world of Elemental. That’s just a fancy way to name your hero unit, who acts as your avatar, as you prop up settlements, expand your kingdom, and conquer the world via either diplomacy, total conquest, magic, or questing.

Let’s start with what Elemental does well: customization. Everything from what your individual buildings look like to what your units use and are equipped with is malleable by you. You can enter the Workshop menu to design your buildings, units, maps, and even spell effects. The mod tools at your disposal are incredibly deep and complex, but the game makes sure you can easily share your creations with other players through Impulse. You can create your own Sovereign if you like as well, choosing your starting stats and abilities and feats you would like. You can very well make Elemental your own game if you like; all the tools are there.


The game also does a great job of combining D&D-style questing with its Civilization-like city building. You can send your Sovereign and up to eight other units out to accept quests and gain items and spell books to boost your civilization or characters. Numerous inns, wreckages, and monster camps litter the randomly generated maps and are begging to be visited so you can embark on your next adventure. It’s easy to get caught up just questing and gathering new items as much as it is building your cities.

While the D&D inspired elements and customization is great, though, the main gameplay is sorely lacking. 4X games quickly grow more grandiose than your simple beginnings and usually provide you a way to keep track of all your cities and in-game events. Elemental does not do this. When a building is complete, a tiny box in the corner of the screen informs you — something I constantly kept overlooking while managing other cities. This means you’ll have a city sitting idle adding nothing to your production totals. It would be great to be snapped to the city in question or even have a larger prompt come up to ask if you want to build something else, like the Civ games. There is also no way to place a city on auto-pilot. You have to micro-manage every city and manually scroll to each one to boot; there is no way to jump from city to city from a central screen.

The micro-managing extends even further into frustration. You’re given 5 research trees to progress through, each one offering a different path for you to follow. You can progress through one each time you level it up, so you aren’t stuck on one path. The problem is these research trees could be combined and streamlined to make the experience more manageable. Diplomacy has its own tree, but this could be combined with Civilization. Arcane could be combined with Warfare since most magic is either combat or support spells. It feels useless to have it all separated.


The last feature of Elementalis its Campaign Mode, a short, story-based mode that follows a specific Sovereign as he tries to warn his home kingdom of a pending attack. That one-sentence summary is vastly more interesting than the tale Elemental tries to tell. It’s an insipid and derivative story that goes nowhere and has no feeling or flair. It’s also broken. The last part of the first Book (there will be more Books to come via patch updates and expansions) does not load properly and glitches out. I’ve tried the Campaign from the beginning three separate times — the second time was because the latest patch rendered all my saves void — and each time the final city wouldn’t populate and I couldn’t progress. This part of the game also doesn’t feature all the gameplay elements of the main single-player mode, but has you follow a linear path and build new cities and buildings when it tells you to. It’s like playing with an annoying friend over your shoulder telling you what to do and never letting you play.

Presentation is also a weak element. The music is composed of the same two fantasy orchestral tracks on repeat, and the graphical style is comprised of dark, two-tone colors and cartoonish characters that look like they belong in a Saturday morning cartoon instead of a dark fantasy game.

It’s surprising that Stardock would release Elemental in the condition it’s in. The game is unfinished in every respect, lacking features that are standard in current 4X games and in video games in general. It’s a confusing mess that buries all of its interesting features under bad decisions and broken mechanics.


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Author: Matt Erazo View all posts by

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